The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.
DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is supposed to be one of the first adopters of the Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud platform. But since there’s no telling when the JEDI matter will finally emerge from litigation, the JAIC has had to move on to a plan B, at least for the time being.
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, the JAIC director, said his organization has decided to start using the Air Force’s Cloud One environment for its AI work for the foreseeable future. Time is of the essence, he said, since the U.S. military only has about five years before it’s decided whether the United States or China will be the dominant force in AI.
“The lack of an enterprise cloud solution has slowed us down, there’s no question about that,” Shanahan said during a webinar hosted by AFCEA’s D.C. chapter. “We had to do a lot of background work to make sure [Cloud One] could handle our DevSecOps, tools, plans, platforms, but it looks very promising right now.”
The JAIC plans to take advantage of the Air Force’s Platform One – a component of Cloud One that offers a DevSecOps environment to DoD customers as a managed service, and uses both Microsoft and Amazon’s existing, already-approved cloud offerings to quickly spin up new “software factories.”
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“We’re kind of covering our bases with Azure and AWS,” Shanahan said. “I’ll never get into a company discussion — I’m agnostic, I just need an enterprise-class solution. If we want elastic compute, if we want to make worldwide updates to all these algorithms in the space of minutes, not in the space of months while we’re running around with gold discs, we’ve got to have an enterprise-class solution.” —JS
Figuring out how to efficiently adapt commercial mobile devices to the military’s security needs has been something of a holy grail for the Defense Department for almost as long as there have been smartphones. But DoD’s latest move in that direction may involve a solution that doesn’t require any changes to those mobile devices at all.
The Air Force and the Defense Information Systems Agency are about to pilot an approach that might be able to secure smartphones to DoD’s satisfaction without touching their underlying hardware or software. Users would put their phones into a specialized case — just a little bigger than the ones most people use to keep devices from getting scratched up — but with some security-enhancing features.
For example, when it’s switched on, the case blocks the phone’s camera and emits white noise into its microphones, so that even if the phone were to be hacked, it couldn’t be used for eavesdropping. It also contains its own GPS chip and secure communications capabilities.
“The idea is basically, okay, I want to be able to track the phone, but I don’t want anybody else to know that I’m tracking the phone, and I don’t want the phone itself to be emanating,” Frank Konieczny, the Air Force’s chief technology officer said during an event hosted by AFCEA and George Mason University last week. “There’s several ways to do that, but the case is the easiest way, because I don’t have to mess with the phone.”
One ramification is that DoD users would be able to take commercial phones into classified spaces instead of leaving them outside the door. The Air Force and DISA plan to pilot that idea at the Pentagon once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The case could also let military users safely use “burner” phones when they’re traveling overseas.
“Eventually, we think we can also have a continuous biometric authentication capability on the case itself,” Konieczny said. “We will know who it is by them walking or by using eye contact – we can get that biometric authentication information dynamically from the case. It’s going to be another way of looking at how to secure something which is really just a public phone.”
The technology is based on a product called SafeCase, developed by the mobile security firm Privaro. The Air Force signed a Small Business Innovative Research agreement with the company last year. —JS
No promises — but there’s at least a possibility that the Pentagon will lift the travel restrictions it’s imposed on servicemembers and civilian workers earlier than June 30, when they’re currently set to expire.
As of now, the rules ban DoD components from onboarding any civilian employees unless they’re within their local commuting area. Military members are barred from taking leave outside their local areas, and individual permanent change of station moves can only happen with the approval of senior defense officials.
But Pentagon officials are actively developing recommendations for Defense Secretary Mark Esper on whether to lift the restrictions early, or at least modify them, said Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
One option might be to move to a more geographically-based set of stop-move orders, rather than a single set of rules that apply to all DoD personnel worldwide.
“We’re an enterprise of almost three million people that’s spread across all 50 states, three territories, the District of Columbia and 145 or so countries,” he said. “So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at: Can we do a conditions-based, phased approach on lifting the travel restrictions? So we’ll be bringing those recommendations to the secretary and then he’ll take a look at it.”
Some military moves have been allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but each one requires approval from at least a one-star military officer or Senior Executive Service member. As of now, there are no plans to move that waiver authority to a lower level of the chain of command.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a demand to move it down,” said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. “I think the services have worked with that standard pretty well. We’ve continued to move people around the world as needed, so the standard that we have right now seems to work. We are, of course, interested in getting back to the normal process as soon as we can.” —JS
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The Defense Department and military services have been saying for years that they want more women in the military, but the leadership for that goal may not be there. The Government Accountability Office looked at the military’s efforts to recruit and retain women from 2004 to 2018 and the progress isn’t very promising. GAO’s main critique is DoD and each of the services still haven’t developed clear objectives, performance measures and time frames to guide their efforts.
“Without DoD guidance and service plans with goals, performance measures, and timeframes to monitor female recruitment and retention efforts, DoD may continue to miss opportunities to recruit and retain a valuable segment for its active-duty force,” the report authors stated.
Over the 15 year period GAO studied, it found the proportion of women in the military only went up from 15.1% to 16.5%. Women were 28% more likely to leave the service than men. It wasn’t all bad news: Promotion rates were higher for female officers, though slightly lower for enlisted. — SM
Jared Serbu is deputy editor of Federal News Network and reports on the Defense Department’s contracting, legislative, workforce and IT issues.